Stikkordarkiv: J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling

rowling_casualSo I’ve read it. And what did I think? Well, to start with the obvious: It’s not Harry Potter. And while it is not Harry Potter in all the obvious ways, it is also not Harry Potter in a more fundamental, affecting-how-I-feel-about-it way. Let me try to explain:

The Casual Vacancy, as most people will have gathered, is a realistic novel. It is set in Pagford, a smallish town somewhere in England. The novel stars off with a member of the local council unexpectedly dying, which sets off a series of events mostly related to his now vacant seat on the council and the question of local politics. However, though certain aspects of local politics are very central to the story, it is not a book about politics as such, it is more about fairly ordinary people, the lives they actually live and the fronts they try to keep up – the lies they tell themselves or others to maintain the facade.

I had gathered before I started to read that there were a lot of characters to keep track of. Being terrible at names I was bracing myself to make an effort in order to make any sense of it all. However, once I did start reading I found it was not at all hard to keep track. Firstly, the number of characters to keep track of is not that high. Ok, there are rather a lot more «main» characters than in Harry Potter (where there is basically ONE), but when I got to the point where it was obvious everyone important had now been introduced, I thought: «Huh. Well, that wasn’t so bad.» Secondly, everyone is sufficiently unique, and concisely described, characterised and placed in the imaginary landscape to make it quite easy to tell everyone apart without any effort at all, as far as I was concerned. And where I give up with novels like these, with a plurality of characters, is when I start mixing them up so that the plot loses its sense. Rowling, it seems, is much too good at her craft to let this happen.

However, this overabundance of characters had certain other effects: It took me longer than usual to get caught up in the story. I think I spent over two weeks on the first two hundred pages, and I even read a couple of other books in between. However, once I got to page two hundred or so, I was hooked, and the remaining three hundred pages were consumed in a matter of days. And here we touch on why The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter in a more fundamental way than the obvious «not about whitches and wizards and magic and all». The Casual Vacancy does not have a clear main character. Even if, after a few hundred pages, you, as a reader, start rooting more for certain characters than for others, no one or even two or three main characters ever receive more attention than others. And so you, as a reader, do not get as emotionally involved with the fate of one person, simply because the author doesn’t let you.

But it works. And it works quite well. And you really should read it. If you love Harry Potter you should read it because Rowling really does know her stuff. And if you never read Harry Potter or you read it and hated it (what’s wrong with you anyway?) you should also read it because it really isn’t Harry Potter or anything remotely like, and it is really very good in all sorts of ways having nothing to do with magic and saving the world from evil.

(Though that last part is not entirely true, I suppose it does, actually, concern itself partly with saving the world from evil.)

And I will keep on reading Rowlings books. Because I hope there will be more.

All autumn

I have been slacking. In my reading, yes, but obviously even more so in my blogging. Anyway, here is a – I believe – complete list of what’s been «going down»:

Sahara – Michael Palin
Pretty good. Informative, evocative, serious and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny. Reminded me that I need to get hold of the follow-up to Travels with a Tangerine.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith
Quite delightful, as always.

The Tales of Beadle the Bard – J. K. Rowling
The best part being Dumbledore’s notes, and the wonderful confusion between Rowling’s footnotes and Dumbledore’s, that is: Between reality and fiction. You’d probably need to have read the whole Harry Potter series to really enjoy this (and if you’re into metaliterature as well, you’re in luck), but since that includes everyone and his grandma, I guess The Children’s High Level Group will see a nice profit, and nothing could be better. I had a cracking good time reading this, and managed to amaze my colleague by finishing most of the book during a one-hour flight. Yeah, impressive, I know. *rolls eyes*

Freedom’s Landing – Anne McCaffrey
As mentioned here, I got rather annoyed with McCaffrey for using «specimen» for «species» (twice!) and for including a couple of prejudiced, half-witted so-and-sos in order to introduce some conflict. I realise the second gripe is unfair, a conflictless book would, after all, be pretty boring, and so I put that down to my ongoing disagreement with Fiction in general. I rather enjoyed most of the book, and am looking forward to reading the sequel when Fiction and I are reconciled in the hopefully not too distant future.

Nød – Are Kalvø
In truth I only read about 50 pages, then started skimming and then I read the last few pages. I don’t know if it’s Kalvø or me, but it all seemed pretty pointless and tiresome.

Which brings the total tally this year to 45, methinks, and unless I am to fall short of the rather wimpy goal of one-book-a-week (oh, horror) I really need to get in some serious reading time over the holidays. We’ll see.